A Hand With A Plan

Welcome to another strategy article! Today I’m going to look into a complex topic that a few people have requested: planning out your turns and sequencing your moves.

There’s a lot more to sequencing than fits in a single article, so I’m going to start off with a very narrow focus. I’m going to look at the forward planning and potential lines of thought that go into deciding on which cards to replace in your opening hand for a particular, hypothetical game. My hope is that the worked example is a better illustration of what I know than listing general principles would be.

A quick disclaimer: I am going to go extremely deep here, as deep as I know (there are probably layers of skill and thought beyond this that I haven’t personally learned about yet). Don’t feel like you have to start doing all of it right away! As we go through, I’ll give a few tips on how to go about incorporating these ideas into your play.

Another quick disclaimer: I’m writing this in patch 1.86, and Unearthed Prophecy spoilers have already started. The actual matchup in this guide may or may not be relevant at all by the time you read this. In theory, the lessons I’m talking about here are timeless – they can be applied to every game of Duelyst you’ll ever play – so don’t worry too much if Vaath’s deck is as much of a dinosaur as he is.

One sunny afternoon, you have an urge to ladder. You fire up Duelyst and hit the Play button. But, steady on…

Before You Even Queue Up

Knowing your own deck is valuable! What are we doing here?

Imagine if you will that you’ve built this deck:

The list above is a Bond Argeon build with a slant towards tempo. Primus Fist, Bloodtear Alchemist and Arclyte Regalia are strong tempo plays. Suntide Maiden is a great midgame drop for maintaining momentum, and the list features a cheeky one-of Afterblaze to capitalise on anything your opponent leaves in play or make a huge zeal minion without losing card economy.

In basically any matchup, you’re going to want to get ahead on board early. Against faster decks, you want to leverage your minions’ excellent stats to make good trades, defending yourself before setting up a massive minion your opponent likely can’t deal with. Against anything of the same speed or slower, you’ll fight for board control and push damage with Roar and Holy Immolation, looking for opportunities to stick a minion that can be Divine Bonded for a quick win. Like a lot of Argeon decks, this list combines Lyonar’s excellent aggressive openings with their solid midrange game, letting it play fast or slow games comfortably.

This means that curving out and card quality are very important. You can’t afford to keep greedy hands, and two-drops are crucial. A lot of your spells are situational – requiring minions on board and in position – which can cause awkwardness if you draw too many of them. This is all par for the Lyonar course, and regardless of how well they know your strategy and unusual card choices, your opponents will be ready for a tempo battle. They’ll probably prioritise clearing your minions; to them, you always have Holy Immolation and Divine Bond in hand. Sticking creatures and getting full value out of your power cards will often be a challenge, which is why we have the plan B of curving out with well-statted stuff and going face.

Before You See Your Hand

LYONARRRR VURHSUS MAGMAHHHRRRR, booms the announcer. The giant green face of Vaath the Immortal fills the right-hand side of your screen. You’re going first against the meta-topping lizard empire.

You obviously don’t know what your opponent is playing, but you can always make an educated guess. At the time of writing, the most popular Vaath deck is a tempo-y midrange deck that looks something like this:

(Taken from Bagoum in mid-June, patch 1.86, where it sits comfortably in Tier 1.)

Assuming your opponent is on this deck isn’t too much of a cost. Since both your deck and Midrange Vaath are pretty aggressive, if you mulligan for a fast matchup and they’re playing something slow, you’re unlikely to suffer. As Lyonar, curving out is pretty much always the plan. Even cards like Lasting Judgement are still good – on the offchance your opponent is playing Keeper Vaath or some other control deck, you can still punish a Sunsteel Defender with it.

There are still a few risks:

  • Mulliganing and playing under the assumption your opponent will have Spelljammer or Tectonic Spikes, then getting punished if they aren’t running it (or don’t draw it).
  • Assuming confidently they don’t have Cryptographer or Golem Metallurgist/Ragebinder in their deck and getting blown out by your opponent’s turn 1 or turn 2. Similarly, assuming they don’t have Sunsteel Defender can be an issue.

We can keep the latter point in mind when mulliganing, and judge whether the opponent is likely to have symmetrical draw effects based on their first couple of turns.

How does the matchup play out?

I would say that both your Argeon deck and Midrange Vaath are of similar speed. Each of you has a ferocious early game backed up by dominating midgame plans the opponent has to counter as much as they can. You have a combo (Divine Bond) and they don’t, but they have brutal value/tempo cards like Lavaslasher and Makantor Warbeast, and Vaath’s BBS applies a lot of pressure as the game goes on. Plasma Storm is a potential issue, and one you do need to play around. Argeon’s BBS helps a lot with that, so I’d be looking to use Roar on turn 3 in order to buff a minion out of range before Vaath gets to five mana.

The early turns of the matchup are pretty frantic. Both decks rely heavily on getting off to a strong start on the board, and feature some of the best turn 1-2 plays in the game (Young Silithar, Windblade Adept, Azurite Lion, Flash Reincarnation, Ragebinder, Silverguard Knight) alongside strong point removal (Lasting Judgement, Natural Selection, Saberspine Tiger, Bloodtear Alchemist). This means both players have access to dominant, hard-to-answer openings as well as strong counterplays in the very beginning of the game. Winning this initial joust makes a big difference to the match, but both decks also feature some astounding card quality further up the curve, and whoever’s ahead on board never gets to rest on their laurels.

Vaath’s more expensive cards clean up your early drops extremely well, aside from the 5 health Silverguard Knight, but typical Magmar decks only run Thumping Wave and Natural Selection to remove buffed Ironcliffe Guardians and four-drops. This means you ideally want to set up Ironcliffe when you and/or your opponent have a cheap minion in play (as Natural Selection fodder) and you can Roar it (to dodge Plasma Storm and make Makantor or Lavaslasher worse). Thumping Wave on provoke units is resoundingly awkward, locking the Magmar player in place for a turn, so even if they have the right removal spell, it still isn’t great for them.

All this means you’re looking to curve out as efficiently as possible – ideally with access to at least one reactive card – and set up a dominating midgame to either put the nail in the coffin or claw back victory if you lose the board.

So with this in mind, we can (finally) start thinking about your opening hand…

Your Hand

Primus Fist | Lasting Judgement | Silverguard Knight | Suntide Maiden | Ironcliffe Guardian

That’s a good hand. You have a play every turn even if your opponent denies you all the mana tiles, and a removal spell just in case. But it could be better. Primus Fist is your worst turn 1 play aside from Bloodtear Alchemist, you don’t really have any way of ensuring you win trades aside from some reasonably-high-health minions, and if you jam all your cards exactly on curve you’ll wind up conceding when your opponent casts Plasma Storm. On top of that, you don’t have any of your particularly punishing cards – no Holy Immolation, no Divine Bond, no Afterblaze – so if the plan of just playing minions with increasing amounts of health doesn’t work out, you’re soon going to be on the hook to topdeck what you need.

What do you replace?

Level 0: Cut the Two Most Expensive Cards

This was definitely how I used to make mulligan decisions when I started playing.

Duelyst is about tempo, right? Curving out is easiest when you have cheap cards in your hand? Ship the expensive stuff, you don’t need it until later.

Primus Fist | Lasting Judgement | Silverguard Knight | Suntide Maiden | Ironcliffe Guardian

Although this is not a dreadful starting point, we can do a lot better. There’s a surprising amount of planning and forward thinking you can do while staring at your opening hand, and you have a decent amount of time to do it. Considering how the first few turns of the game are going to play out can lead you to some much more nuanced mulligan decisions while also helping you execute your initial turns. Having a plan to follow considerably improves your strategising.

Where do we start with this?

Level 1: Plan Out Your Curve

We don’t necessarily need to keep only the cheapest cards to curve out smoothly and powerfully. Mana tiles exist!

Most of the time, player 1’s opening in a game of Duelyst involves them moving forward two squares and playing a minion diagonally forwards, so that it can take a mana tile next turn. Following on from that, we can see how the first three turns of the game might go:

  1. Move Argeon two squares forward. Put Primus Fist between him and a mana tile (let’s say the bottom one).
  2. Move Argeon into the centre of the board. Use Primus Fist to take the bottom mana tile. Play Suntide Maiden between your opponent and the top mana tile, assuming they’ve taken the middle one.
  3. Move Argeon or Suntide Maiden up onto the top mana tile. Play Ironcliffe Guardian. Alternately, if we’ve drawn another 4-mana card, play that and Roar the Suntide Maiden to beat Plasma Storm.

This suggests we should mulligan the unnecessary cards, looking for power plays (such as Holy Immolation) and better 2- or 4-drops:

Primus Fist | Lasting Judgement | Silverguard Knight | Suntide Maiden | Ironcliffe Guardian

This approach isn’t perfect, but the principle itself is an extremely valuable aspect of the game to learn if you’re not in the habit of doing it. Thinking forward to future turns (yours and your opponent’s) is a crucial element of skilful Duelyst play, and helps guide all your decisions. Positioning around Holy Immolation is much easier if you start doing it two turns in advance.

Level 2: What If They Have Removal?

The Level 1 approach has a big flaw: it makes the assumption that you’ll definitely get to take a mana tile with your Primus Fist on turn 2. What if your opponent kills it?

There are quite a few ways your opponent could interact with your Primus Fist, and pretty much any Duelyst deck has the ability to kill a two-drop on curve. Midrange Vaath above has Natural Selection and Saberspine Tiger, and will be more than happy to use them here. If you’ve mulliganed your cheap cards and drawn more expensive ones, you might end up having to play nothing on turn 2, or run out something underwhelming like a two-drop.

This can be doubly problematic because it’s easy for your opponent to play a two-mana minion and a two-mana removal spell (Natural Selection in this case). Losing your two-drop is bad, but losing your two-drop and having your opponent seize the lead on the board is potentially game-defining. In this case, you still need some kind of play – ideally two two-drops, one two-drop plus a removal spell of your own, or a three-drop.

At the same time, you don’t want to go too far. What if they don’t have the removal spell, or elect to leave the Primus up? You still want to get the Suntide Maiden out there while it’s at its most effective (Maiden preys on two-drops like nobody’s business).

You could ship the two expensive cards and hope for another two-mana play to go alongside the Lasting Judgement, but why bother when you already have this Silverguard Knight? Knight trumps two-drops cleanly, restricts your opponent’s movement, and holds ground well. It’s a great backup plan. This now makes your strategy something like:

  1. Move Argeon two squares forward and play Primus Fist between him and a mana tile.
  2. On turn 2:
    1. If the Primus Fist is still alive, use it to take the mana tile next to it and play Suntide Maiden.
    2. Otherwise, play Silverguard Knight.

You’ll notice that there’s no turn 3 plan any more – that’s unknown, apart from playing whichever minion you didn’t run out on turn 2, hopefully with a Roar. You’ll draw plenty of cards to make new plans with in the meantime, though.

Primus Fist | Lasting Judgement | Silverguard Knight | Suntide Maiden | Ironcliffe Guardian

You’ve now started thinking about what the opponent can do, and building in a contingency for if plan A goes astray. This is another key step towards learning the high-level ropes of a game like Duelyst. Planning ahead while taking into account what your opponent’s cards and plans might be is a huge part of complex Duelyst strategy. Learning which opposing cards to avoid and when is another topic entirely, but it costs very little to make this particular hedge and guards against a very likely scenario. You’re playing around your opponent’s removal by ensuring it doesn’t leave you high and dry, but without giving up a cohesive proactive plan if your opponent gives you the window to do so. Perfect!

Level 3: What’s Their Best Opening?

For some reason, I’ve always found that playing around the opponent’s removal spells – be it point removal like Thumping Wave, or AOEs like Plasma Storm – is much easier than playing around their other cards. I guess because removal spells directly interact with my board, so I have some clearer indication of whether I successfully mitigated the effect or not (did they kill a suboptimal target, or pass on casting the spell at all?). Avoiding getting beaten up by my opponent’s proactive plays is much more difficult for me. Nevertheless, that’s the next level, so let’s dive in.

If you can find a good counter to your opponent’s first turn, you can clear their board, take the centre for yourself, and set yourself ahead going into the midgame.

As well as the two-drop + Natural Selection opening from Level 2, an opponent on netdecked Midrange Vaath might pull out:

  • 2-drop on the mana tile + 2-drop (likely in the centre of the board, since the deck is aggressive)
  • 2-drop + Flash Reincarnation + Spelljammer (probably with the Spelljammer out of reach of your General at least)
  • Bloodtear Alchemist + 2-drop + Greater Fortitude (probably with the Alchemist on the mana tile, having pinged your Primus Fist, and a 4/5 in the middle of the board)
  • Bloodtear Alchemist + Flash Spelljammer + Greater Fortitude (probably putting a 5/5 Spelljammer in the middle of the board)

Other common Vaath openings worth considering are:

  • Golem Metallurgist on the mana tile + Ragebinder (likely with the Ragebinder in the centre)
  • Cryptographer + Overload or 2-drop + Cryptographer
  • Any of the above with a Flash Reincarnation’d Sunsteel Defender instead of Spelljammer

That’s a lot of possibilities, some more likely (or powerful) than others. The Bloodtear + Flash Spelljammer + Greater Fortitude line is pretty niche, for instance; you can probably ignore that one. Your main concern aside from Natural Selection should probably be the double 2-drop, but being able to beat other openings wouldn’t hurt if you get the chance.

The Lasting Judgement in your hand does a lot of work here. Judgement kills a 2-drop outright or, combined with an Argeon attack, can kill a 4- or 5-health minion (a Ragebinder or buffed thing). It’s also amazing insurance against the dreaded Flash Sunsteel. Between Judgement, Argeon and the Primus Fist, you can kill two 3-health minions outside of two Flashed Sunsteels (which is unlikely enough that even I’ve never done it).

There is a wrinkle. Between Young Silithar and Ragebinder, a lot of these openings involve a Rebirth minion. Killing things with Rebirth is pretty useless unless you can also remove the egg. There are a few ways of doing so that you can mulligan for:

  • Windblade Adept instead of Primus Fist on turn 1 can turn a Young Silithar into an egg by itself, freeing up Argeon to attack the egg.
  • Bloodtear Alchemist can combine with Argeon to kill a Young Silithar, or with Lasting Judgement to kill a Ragebinder. This then allows Primus Fist to clear the egg without taking any damage.
  • Any other 2-drop can be jammed on turn 1 then Primus Fist-ed on turn 2 to kill an opposing 2- or 3-drop cleanly. This lets Argeon remove an egg.

If you can hit a decent 2-drop or a Bloodtear Alchemist, you can clear almost anything your opponent does. If they play a 2-drop and Natural Selection, you can still Lasting Judgement their 2-drop (bonus points if it’s a Flashed Sunsteel) and take the centre tile. This neutralises the board, but leaves you with a small positional advantage. Cryptographer means your Primus Fist dies in one hit to your opponent’s General, so you should probably use it to kill the Crypto rather than Argeon, since there’s not much difference between a 2/1 and a 2/3 once your opponent has a BBS charge.

In most of the cases above, though, wiping out your opponent’s forces leaves you with one or two small bodies left, Argeon in the centre or close to it, and two unused mana tiles to the top and bottom, letting you make a five-mana play next turn. Suntide Maiden + Roar with a small body hanging around is resilient to both Plasma Storm and Natural Selection, and contests your opponent’s 4- or 5-mana minions well. As long as you position the Maiden where Vaath can’t attack it (to avoid Lavaslasher + General hit), you should be in a great position. The Suntide Maiden has a lot more upside than the Silverguard Knight here; since it can potentially attack things with less than 6 power every turn for the rest of the game, you’re incentivised to develop it as early as possible. You’re also far less punished by Ephemeral Shroud if your opponent is running it.

This makes your game plan:

  1. Play Primus Fist, or ideally a different 2-drop if we’ve drawn one.
  2. Use Lasting Judgement, your 2-drop if it’s still alive, the Primus Fist if it’s still in hand, and any other tools you’ve drawn into to clear your opponent’s first-turn plays.
  3. Using a mana tile, play Suntide Maiden and Roar it.

Primus Fist | Lasting Judgement | Silverguard Knight | Suntide Maiden | Ironcliffe Guardian

You might notice the article just got a lot more complicated. We’re now officially ‘going deep’ – once you start planning out your opponent’s moves for them, you know you’re really putting in the work. This section has a lot more contingencies and potential paths than before. At the same time, the conclusion is kind of woolly. “Mulligan like this, and you can probably kill their stuff on turn 2.”

It’s fortunate that most of the opponent’s openings can be dealt with in largely the same way – if you hit another two-drop and a Bloodtear Alchemist off your mulligan you can pretty much guarantee the lead on board after your turn 2 regardless of what your opponent does. There’s a lot more to the game than that, though. We’ve developed a crisp plan for your first three turns and your opponent’s turn 1, but nothing more than that.

Is clearing the opponent’s board even a good idea? What if they just Natural Selection and don’t play anything, holding a hand of bombs and removal against your early-game interaction? What if they Lavaslasher you on turn 2 before you’ve gotten your Suntide Maiden out? What happens if you spend all your cards killing their early game drops, get your Suntide Maiden Thumping Waved, and don’t see a Trinity Oath for several turns? At what point do you actually start damaging your opponent?

On top of that, you can’t possibly plan out your opponent’s entire game, especially without knowing their deck list. You only have a minute and a half per turn to make your decisions. At some point, you need a heuristic, a shortcut – some way of making the game intuitive. Like learning scales for a musical instrument, figuring out what your opponent’s options are is a vital step in your learning, but at some point you have to go beyond that and develop it into an understanding of how the matchup flows. Like this:

Level 4: What’s Their Plan? Can I Counter It?

What is your opponent going to try to do in this game?

Assuming we’re right about them playing Midrange Vaath, or some other tempo-y build like Golems or a Cryptographer deck, they’ll probably be trying to curve out on you. Get an early lead using efficient creatures and Flash Reincarnation, remove key threats using their removal spells, and own the board after a turn or two. Then it’s Lavaslasher-into-Makantor time like any self-respecting Magmar player. By the time they’re done with that, a typical opponent is probably close to dead, and a couple more attacks from Vaath and his supporting cast will seal the deal. It’s important for them to be able to get consistent damage in on your General to enable burst plays like Saberspine Tiger + Thumping Wave or threaten lethal with the BBS. Generally, I’d say the matchup is a race – neither of you wants to give the other any breathing room.

How do we exploit that?

It’s pretty hard for your opponent to do any of that while you have an Ironcliffe Guardian in play. The 3/10 can trump multiple small units while rooting Vaath in place, and if you Roar it, it only really dies to Thumping Wave. Thumping Wave in turn takes most of a turn’s worth of mana and doesn’t allow the provoked enemy units to move, meaning the Guardian has quite a strong impact on the game even if it’s immediately answered.

Holy Immolation is also great in this matchup (when is it not?). Most of your opponent’s creatures are quite small, and even Lavaslasher can be cleaned up with a Holy Immolation plus a General hit. Belting Vaath in the face for 4 damage doesn’t hurt either – that contributes significantly to the race, and getting early damage in forces your opponent to play more conservatively. Anything you can do that deters them from attacking with Vaath will help.

This suggests we can hold on to the Ironcliffe Guardian and sculpt our game plan around it. You can bait out a Plasma Storm on curve by developing small minions and removing the opponent’s, then play the Guardian. Alternately, if the opponent starts out stronger than you, the Guardian can be part of a swing turn where you try to stabilise then jam it and Roar it once you have access to six mana. This makes your other cards a lot more replaceable – they don’t have the same combination of resilience and immediate impact that the Ironcliffe Guardian does, and you’d rather find cheap interaction, two-drops and Holy Immolation.

By holding onto Ironcliffe Guardian you also give yourself a chance to draw Divine Bond and cast it on an unanswered 3/10. This is generally highly unlikely to work by itself, but you have Dioltas and duplicate Guardians to provide redundant threats of Bond that your opponent is forced to respect. Once your opponent has cast a Thumping Wave, the chances of getting away with Divine Bond go up dramatically.

  1. Move Argeon forward and play Primus Fist next to a mana tile.
  2. Remove your opponent’s things.
  3. or 4. Play Ironcliffe Guardian in an annoying spot, having drawn out or played around Plasma Storm in some way, and profit.

Primus Fist | Lasting Judgement | Silverguard Knight | Suntide Maiden | Ironcliffe Guardian

You’ll notice this section is shorter and less detailed than the previous one.

You can’t possibly think through every branch of every situation the game can travel through, especially multiple turns in advance. A more practical approach is to use experience with the matchup and your understanding of the game in general to try to guess at your opponent’s overall plan. Take key cards into account – especially AOE removal and other big swing generators – but rather than attempting to plan out absolutely everything, try to figure out your opponent’s likely intentions and how that might translate into their on-board decisions.

A lot of this comes through practice. If you don’t know your opponent’s deck very well, it gets difficult to strategise cleanly since you don’t really know what their plans or great cards actually are. In Gauntlet in particular, thinking about individual cards outside of commonly-seen removal spells is rarely worth it; instead you need to read your opponent’s actions on the fly and try to gauge if they’re going for a fast or slow game.

Once you have the hang of doing this, it feels like magic. Whenever I play against a Cassyva player I know she’s highly likely to drop Obliterate on curve, probably preceded by a Spectral Revenant, and the rest of the game will be setting up for that. This means I need to plan to win the game on turn 6 (through a Revenant) or spend a lot of time dispelling creep tiles. She’s come prepared to kill my stuff and make creep in the process, so I have to set up to deal damage rather than take board control. This sort of reasoning is why my Keeper Vaath lists usually have a one-of Adamantite Claws – I usually jam it on turn 3 against Cassyva players and start bashing them in the face. It looks like a really weird decision, but I know based on how the matchup usually flows that the onus is on me to do something (unusually for Keeper Vaath – in most matchups, it’s the control deck).

Matchup analysis and deciding whether you’re on the beatdown or controlling role is another whole topic by itself – it’s on my to-do list – so for now I’ll give this generic piece of advice: Pay attention to whether players of a given deck like to attack you early, attack late, kill your minions, and/or set up their own. Try to figure out whether you or they win if the game goes on to turn 10 and beyond. Learn their key turns (e.g. Magmar’s 5 and 6 mana turns, for Lavaslasher and Makantor to come down; Cassyva’s 7 and 8 mana turns for Spectral Revenant and Obliterate) and think about how you can minimise the impact of such a turn. Understanding roughly what your opponent wants to do, and when they can do it, will let you sketch out a game plan of your own that counters it.

Level 5: But What If They Know I’m Doing That?

Figuring out your opponent’s game plan and countering it is all very well, but your opponent is an intelligent, thoughtful human being. They can do the exact same thing to you! They can figure out your strategy, look for counters to it, and play around your key cards.

For instance, we’ve been talking about playing around Plasma Storm. The Windblade Adept nerf has muddied the waters a little, but certainly in the past I’ve mulliganed away Plasma Storms against Argeon, and even sideboarded a copy out after game 1. Roar and other buffs make it far too awkward and situational. Probably not quite enough that you (as the Lyonar player) can assume they don’t have it, but certainly enough that you can expect them not to be too put out when you play around it. A canny Magmar player will have a backup plan for if you don’t play into the Storm.

Similarly, the Magmar player will respect your minions, and especially Holy Immolation. (They may not play around Afterblaze, since it’s less common, so its value goes up somewhat.) They aren’t going to avoid chucking out minions, since that’s what their deck does, but they might spread out or position more defensively to avoid Immolations and attacks from your two-drop. They will probably use removal aggressively.

This means you might want to hedge and keep a bit more of a proactive hand. Ironcliffe Guardian and Suntide Maiden are great cards, but your opponent doesn’t just roll over and die when you play them, and you don’t want to end up in the awkward dance of trying to play your good cards without walking them into your opponent’s powerful answers.

The matchup is a race, right? Turn 1 Primus Fist, turn 2 Silverguard Knight + Lasting Judgement seems great there, assuming you don’t draw anything better. If your opponent doesn’t do anything deserving of a Lasting Judgement or you want to leave both mana tiles open, Silverguard Knight + attack with Primus Fist is perfectly valid. And, of course, you can still play the Knight if your opponent kills the Primus Fist on their first turn.

Keeping Suntide Maiden or Ironcliffe Guardian for a turn 3 5-mana play isn’t really worth it. Ironcliffe Guardian walks hard into Plasma Storm, and even Suntide + Roar relies on getting a mana tile and not having to play reactively. You have Dioltas and Arclyte Regalia in your deck as much more reliable turn 3 plays, as well as the dominating Holy Immolation and the insurance policy that is Trinity Oath. Although you can fairly reliably get the mana tile thanks to Silverguard’s provoke, losing tempo due to drawing too many expensive cards is an easy way to lose the early game joust, and mulliganing has a lot of potential payoff. You can maximise your chances of hitting Bloodtear Alchemist (to clean up a 2/3 or an egg as well as enable five-mana Bloodtear + Holy Immolation plays out of hand) and Windblade Adept or Azurite Lion (for extra trading power with the opponent’s 2-drops, and hitting power on their face).

You’re giving up on the guaranteed Ironcliffe Guardian or Suntide Maiden here, but your opponent is probably prepared for that anyway. This isn’t really a matchup for trying to set up combos or individual powerful minions, so let’s not get too fancy. It’s actually more painful for them to deal with the Silverguard Knight on curve – Thumping Wave is overkill, Plasma Storm is too expensive, and Natural Selection either gets deflected by the Primus Fist or has already been cast on it. The Knight’s provoke probably denies your opponent easy mana tile access too. If the Silverguard survives, you have a lot of potential punishes, and even if they have Flash Reincarnation + Lavaslasher, the big bad Golem will be a 4/4 and dies to Holy Immolation or Arclyte Regalia. You don’t have a solid plan beyond that, but your deck is full of great cards for the midgame, and is capable of a lot of dominating turn-3 plays. Chances are you’ll draw something decent.

This makes for a gameplan of:

  1. Move Argeon forward and play Primus Fist next to a mana tile.
  2. Play Silverguard Knight. If Primus Fist is still alive, you can attack with it, or take a mana tile and play Silverguard on another mana tile to cast Lasting Judgement.
  3. It’s now likely that you’ve slowed down your opponent a good amount, and are going into the midgame with a small tempo lead and access to a mana tile. This means almost any card you could have in your hand at this point is good, and your opponent will hopefully be on the hook to take back the game.

Primus Fist | Lasting Judgement | Silverguard Knight | Suntide Maiden | Ironcliffe Guardian

What’s the difference between Level 4 and Level 5? Planning with the assumption that your opponent is aware of your strongest proactive strategies, especially if they’re common ones for your faction. It’s not just expecting them to play around Divine Bond – it’s expecting them to anticipate an Ironcliffe + Roar and craft their hand and board accordingly.

It’s weirdly hard to internalise that an opponent is just as capable of nuanced reasoning and counterplay as we are. Even in games like Magic: the Gathering, where you’re playing face-to-face, it’s always tempting to assume your opponent is a level below you, and you can plan for and play around their cards. At this point you might lose to a higher-skilled opponent without ever realising what they were doing. They knew full well you were looking for an opportunity to cast your AOE spell, so they gave you one that didn’t actually hurt them at all. They knew you were going to play around Plasma Storm, so they just replaced it, and as far as you could tell, they “never drew it”. As far as I know, it’s because we humans have a natural tendency towards solipsism – to assume that we’re the clever thinkers and everyone else is on autopilot.

What does this mean in terms of your play? Never get too cute. Don’t assume you can just get away with a combo. Try to use your opponent’s knowledge against them; you know that a Dioltas or Ironcliffe Guardian will bait removal, so go ahead and replace that Divine Bond and throw your “combo piece” onto the board as bait for your opponent to spend their turn getting rid of. And, of course, don’t be too surprised if they call your bluff and leave it intact.

What Now?

You might notice that we came full circle at the end, and at Level 5 I was advocating the same play I would’ve made two weeks after I started playing. That’s coincidental (I tried really hard to find an example that wouldn’t at some point form a loop), but it does go to show that there’s not much “wrong” with any of these heuristics, really. This stuff takes a lot of practice and confidence – the more of it you can build towards, the better, but don’t feel like playing at anything less than Level 5 is inherently bad. It’s just the highest level I’m personally aware of – chances are there are more that I’m not good enough at the game to realise.

There’s always a stigma in competitive strategy gaming about players being ‘bad’ or making mistakes. Screw that! Everyone makes mistakes, and nobody ever picked up a game and knew how to play it with perfect execution and brilliant nuance within a week. We’re all learning and climbing. Hopefully, given another year, I’ll be back with a Part 2 featuring the next five levels. Who knows? I feel like in the future, games of Duelyst might be won or lost based on someone mulliganing in such a way as to force their opponent to play Lavaslasher one square to the right on turn 4 and falling behind from there. We’ve barely scratched the surface at this point.

This article is aimed at bringing these lines of thought to your attention, rather than expecting anyone to pick them up right away. It’s so easy to get stuck on plateaus because you don’t know what you need to learn next. I hope I’ve managed to enlighten at least one lovely reader as to what they’re currently missing.

As always, please let me know what you thought or if you have more questions, and I’ll see you next time. Happy strategising!

Adam Thomas
Adam makes videos of himself playing Duelyst, Magic: the Gathering, and whatever else he decides to put together in the future!

He's on Twitch at https://www.twitch.tv/apocalyptic_squirrel, currently streaming every Monday at around 8:30pm GMT onwards!
About Adam Thomas 28 Articles
Adam makes videos of himself playing Duelyst, Magic: the Gathering, and whatever else he decides to put together in the future! He's on Twitch at https://www.twitch.tv/apocalyptic_squirrel, currently streaming every Monday at around 8:30pm GMT onwards!